PHOTO TOPICS

Reviews of photography techniques, equipment, software, instructional materials, and any other "topics" that are related to photography.   

Tuesday
Jul202010

Nikon vs. Canon DSLR Review

Here we go.  There is nothing that can stir emotions among photographers like the debate as to which professional digital SLR is better - Canon or Nikon.

I started using Canon DSLRs back in 2002.  I plunked down $5000 for a 4 megapixel Canon 1D.  It was worth every penny.  It was fast, rugged, great autofocus and the picture quality was outstanding (relatively speaking for 2002).  The Canon lenses were all top notch.  I bought the 16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, 200mm F1.8 (what a great piece of glass), 85mm F1.2, 100mm F2.0, 50mm F1.4, and the 24mm F1.4.  All great lenses and combined with the 1D bodies they really created some great photos with the help of the photographer.

I bought the Canon 1DS, the Canon 1D Mark II, the Canon 1DS Mark II, and the Canon 1D Mark III.  These were all great cameras for their time and Canon was the clear leader over Nikon for low noise, high ISO images and they were the only manufacture with a full frame 35mm camera with the 1DS models.

Nikon had the 1.5 cropped sensor, and their high ISO performance was always a step behind Canon.

In 2007 everything changed.  Nikon introduced the 12 megapixel, full frame, high ISO (low noise up to 6400 ISO), rugged, great autofocus Nikon D3. 

During this time Canon introduced the Canon 1DS Mark III which took the pixel count over 21mp and only slightly improved the high ISO capabilities of the Canon 1DS Mark II. The Canon 1D Mark III was a great camera ... 10mp, 1.3 cropped senor with respectable high ISO up to 3200.  Many users reported autofocus problems with the Canon 1D Mark III, but I never really experienced that.  Many Canon users started using the Canon 5D ... a full frame 13mp camera in a pro-sumer body.  The problem with the 5D was its autofocus system.  It was basically the same system as found in the consumer level Canon 40D model.  The focus points were tightly bunched in the middle of the finder and they weren't as sensitive or accurate as their Canon 1D big brother, leading to a lot of out of focus shots.  In good light this camera produced great images, but if you were photograping moving subjects in poor light you were in trouble.  Canon then came out with the 5D Mark II which took the pixel count over 21mp and improved the high ISO performance, but the autofocus system was still pro-sumer and the 21mp was overkill for what I needed.

As a photojournalist and wedding photographer 12mp is the sweet spot for resolution.  The images are big enough to allow you to enlarge photographs up to 24 x 36, yet small enough as not to fill up CF cards and hard drives quickly and take longer to process on my Mac.

I bought the Nikon D3 for $5000 in 2007 to replace my Canon 1DS Mark II.  The Canon 1DS Mark III was $8000 and 21mp (overkill for me) and the ISO performance was two stops worse than the D3.  Then I bought the Nikon 14-24 and the Nikon 24-70 lenses.  Both lenses were newly introduced and were amazingly sharp.

I used the Nikon D3 along side the Canon 1D Mark III for about 6 months.  When Nikon introduced the Nikon D700 in the summer of 2008 I made the switch to Nikon 100%.  I bought the  70-200mm F2.8, 50mm F1.4, 85mm F1.4, and the 16mm fisheye to go along with my other 14-24mm and my 24-70mm lenses. The D700 was about $2,700 and had the same exact full frame image senor and autofocus system as in the D3 in a slightly smaller and lighter body. 

I also bought a few Nikon SB800 flashes and later the SB900 flash.  I have no hard core testing on this, but the Nikon flashes seem to be more accurate and the iTTL system seems to work much better and easier than the Canon wireless flash system.

After I switched to the Nikon system the number of keepers for a wedding went up by 25%.  My in-focus and properly exposed shots were much higher with the Nikon.  Maybe I became a much better photographer, but it seems like quite a coincidence. 

Come forward to 2010 ... Canon has introduced its 15mp, 1.3 cropped sensor 1D Mark IV with better high ISO, but still a stop or so worse than the new full frame, 12mp, Nikon D3s that was introduced in late 2009. Canon doesn't seem to get it.  Give your customers better ISO and a full frame camera, and stop trying to cram more pixels into a cropped sensor. 

Nikon has introduced a new 70-200mm F2.8 that is just amazing.  I shoot it wide open and it produces wonderfully sharp images.  Canon also introduced a new 70-200 that I am sure is also excellent.

In terms of lenses, both Nikon and Canon have a great lineup ... you won't go Canon or Nikon because of the lenses.

If you doing landscapes or in-studio portraits, you can't go wrong with either system.  If your on the go and working in low light conditions, Nikon, IMO, gives you the best option.

 

 

 

Friday
Jul162010

Aperture 3 vs. Lightroom 3 Review - again

I was going to try to use Apple Aperture 3 for portrait shoots and use Lightroom 3 for large engagements like weddings and events.  You can beat Lightroom 3 for speed and workflow.  But Aperture 3 has some real nice brushes for skin smoothing, retouching, and blurring that would allow me to aleviate the need to go to Photoshop.  I can do some level of smooting and retouching in Lightroom 3, but it isn't as powerful as Aperture 3. 

So I did an executive photography shoot in my studio and decided give Aperture 3 the business.  I did an in camera white balance with my WhiBal card.  I brought the photos into Aperture and did my photo editing.  I had about a dozen photos so the the speed and workflow concerns aren't a big deal. 

The photos looked pretty good, but there were a few things that I just didn't like.  So for comparison purposes I imported the photos into Lightroom.  To my surprise the skin tones were more natural with Lightroom.  The Aperture skin tones were a little red and the vignette control just didn't give me a dark enough vignette and I wasn't able to control the shape and tone of the vignette as well as Lightroom.

These two pictures don't really show the differences that well. On my screen the differences were more pronounced.  The photograph on the left is from Lightroom and the photograph on the right is from Aperture.

I will still use Aperture for my home photographs and video management.  I was hoping the Lightroom 3 when it went into production would have better video support.  I can't wait for Adobe anymore so I bought Aperture 3 and love the video support and the slideshow feature which allows me to produce great movies that combine stills, video, and music.

The KILLER feature of Lightroom 3 is the Lens Correction feature.  I hand hold a lot of group portraits at weddings.  I try to get my lines straight in camera, but they always seemed to need to be tweaked in Photoshop.  This feature allows me to get nice straight lines and remove all lens distortion, saving me from a lot of round trips to Photoshop.  The noise reduction is much better and the overal image quality is much improved over Lightroom 2.

Wednesday
May192010

DROBO Review

I put off buying a DROBO for a couple of years.  The idea of a single storage device that could hold ALL my photographs since I began to shoot digitally was very appealing.  I had grown a data farm over the years with multiple external drives from multiple vendors.  The stacks of drives along with all the USB cables and power cords was really becoming a pain.  Amazon and DataRobotics was running a special - $340 for the Drobo (I have the base model second generation mofel with four drives with the firewire 800) from Amazon and then subtract a $40 rebate from DR.  I bought for 1.5TB drives from Amazon for about $109 each.  The total cost was about $740 for a single RAID storage device that netted me about 4.0 terabytes vs. seven drives that had no hardware backup. 

My main computer is an Apple Mac Pro which has four drive bays and I use them all.  So the  DROBO is used purely for backup, not day to day work. 

Overall the Drobo works as advertised.  I put the four drives into the Drobo in about 10 minutes, installed the software on my Mac Pro and it was ready to go.  It looks like any other hard drive on my computer, but it is a huge 4.8 terabyte drive.  I started moving all my files from those individual storage drives to my Drobo.  That took about 24 hours ... not quite as fast as I thought it would be, but you only have to do it once.

One small problem that I have had is that when I put my Mac Pro to sleep the Drobo also goes to sleep (that is good), but when I wake up my Mac Pro the Drobo wakes up but the Drobo Dashboard application that comes with the Drobo can't find it.  The Drobo drive is still recognized by Snow Leopard and I can see it in the File Manager, but the Dashboard application can't seem to find it.  This is very strange, especially since the operating system finds it.  The only way to remedy the situation is to unplug the power cord (the Drobo  doesn't have an off/on switch) and plug it back in.  Sort of clunky.  I have researched all the Drobo support pages and this seems to be the only work around.


The other annoying thing about the Drobo is that when I do almost any file operation, like saving a file, the operating system seems to wake up the Drobo even if I don't select it.  When  this happens, Drobo spins up the four drives in sequential order and I can be sitting there for about 20 seconds waiting for the Drobo drives to spin up.   Since the Drobo is a backup device, I just take it offline by putting it in standby mode.  When I need to use the Drobo I have to unplug and plug the power cord.

At the end of the day having all my files on one large RAID storage device that does not require any management by me is a dream.  BTW I have two more copies of my files on other drives.  I take my production drives when they are full and ship them offsite.  If you are going to use the Drobo for production work, you really need two Drobos in case one of the Drobos fails. 

Thursday
Apr222010

Aperture 3 Performance and Usability Review

I figured out how to get Apple's Aperture 3 to perform in a similar manner as Lightroom.  I upgraded my Mac Pro's graphics card from the nVidia GeForce 7300 GT to the ATI Radeon HD 4870 Graphics Card.  Aperture 3 takes advantage of all the processing power of the 4870 graphics card and really improves the performance when doing things like retouching,  skin smoothing, or even just changing global parameters like exposure and brightness. 

IMOP - anyone who is considering running Aperture 3 needs to make sure that their graphics card can handle it.  Apple does not specify any minimum configuration for Aperture other than it be a Mac computer with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor.  I have a Mac Book and Aperture 3 runs like a dog on it, it really isn't usable.

I have been using Aperture 3 for about six weeks now and there are still a few things that bug me.

They implemented most of the brushes perfectly.  I can modify a brushes' intensity after I have applied it and I can have multiple adjustments in case I want to control them independently. But for some reason when it comes to the retouch brush I can't modify the opacity after I have applied it (I can only modify just before I apply it and if I get it wrong I have to go back and delete it and re-do it), and I can't have multiple retouch adjustments.   Since I use the retouch a lot this would be a great enhancement.  The spot and retouch tool works in the same manner.

I still prefer how Lightroom allows me to sync adjustments from image to image, and I like how when I draw a mask using Lightroom's adjustment brush that I can change multiple parameters, like exposure, saturation, clarity, etc..

LIGHTROOM WISHES:

- Add retouch brush like Aperture and be able to change each brush independently.

- Add video and slideshow support like Aperture. 

APPLE APERTURE  3 WISHES:

- Give me independent brushes for retouching and spot removal so I can modify them at a later time.

- Allow me to sync changes as easily as Lightroom (I really love Lightroom's Previous button)

Tuesday
Mar232010

Lightroom 3 Beta 2 Review

What has changed since Lightroom 3 Beta 1?

 

  • IMAGE QUALITY with the new noise reduction is much better.  You have to play around with the Luminance, Detail, and Contrast sliders in conjunction with the Sharpening amounts to get a look that you like.  I was trying some different settings with the Luminance slider and you can get some very strange looking texture in your images if you tune these things wrong.  The sample on the left is from LR 2 and the one on the right is from LR 3 Beta 2.  LR 3 is definitely cleaner, but you lose a little detail.  The settings were the same for both photographs. It would be nice if you could brush in noise reduction like in Aperture 3 rather than applying noise reduction to the entire photograph.

  • TETHER SUPPORT - this worked with my Nikon D700 for a few frames and then I couldn't get it to work again.  I am sure they will work the bugs out of this before it is released.  The implemenation is clean and simple and will be a great new addition.  Aperture 3 Tether left a copy of the images on my CF card as well as downloading them to my laptop, Lightroom 3 does not.  
  • VIDEO SUPPORT - this is definitely a reaction to Aperture 3 video support and it shows.  All Adobe did was allow you to import the video file into your Lightroom catalogue ... that is it.  What a joke.  You can't edit it, you can't include it in a slideshow. If you click on the thumbnail it will play in your default video player.  I hope a lot more is coming in the final release.
  • IMPORT - Adobe broke the import function in Lightroom 3 Beta 1 by adding to much functionality and slowing it down from Lightroom 2.  Lightroom 2 import was clean,  simple and fast.  LR3B2 import seemed quicker, but I still like the LR 2 interface better.
  • PERFORMANCE - Beta 3 does seem to be a little quicker overall than Beta 1 or even Lightroom 2.  This is where Lightroom just punishes Aperture 3. When you make a change in this new release, the image is changed immediatley. 

Compeition is good.  Adobe is definitely reacting to Apple's Aperture video and tether support.  They have a long way to go to catch up to the Aperture 3 video support.   Aperture also has book designing, faces recognition, location (GPS) support, and a slideshow feature with video support that puts Lightroom to shame.  


Tuesday
Mar162010

Better Family Photography 

Updated on Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 9:17PM by Registered CommenterWashington, DC Photographer

Updated on Saturday, March 20, 2010 at 10:55PM by Registered CommenterWashington, DC Photographer

Updated on Monday, March 29, 2010 at 10:20AM by Registered CommenterWashington, DC Photographer

Updated on Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 11:07AM by Registered CommenterWashington, DC Photographer

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to give a presentation to MOPS, Moms Of Pre-School children group at Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA, on how to take better family pictures.  At first I thought this would be easy for a professional photographer.  It turned out to be harder than I thought.  I had to put myself in their shoes and not make any assumptions.

I opened up the presentation by taking questions and concerns from the moms. 

  • my pictures are blurry, my son is one big blur across the photograph
  • there is always a big delay when I hit the shutter button and I miss the shot
  • my kids always want to see the photographs right after I take them
  • how can I get them all to smile at the same time?

They also sent me some photos ahead of time and had me analyze them.  What I saw was harsh lighting, boring composition and little emotion.  Over the next few days I will post here on my blog what I recommended.  It was fun.

Here is  sample photo that I received:

Click to read more ...

Friday
Mar052010

Aperture 3 Review Update

I have been using Aperture 3 for the past couple of weeks trying to become more comfortable with the interface. I updated to 3.0.1. It seems a bit more stable and a bit faster, but still not fast enough. I did a test with five images from a wedding that I photographed last year. I edited the images with Lightroom and then did the same adjustments in Aperture. It took 12 minutes in Lightroom and 15 minutes in Aperture ... 25% more time. Some of that has to do with me being more comfortable with Lightroom, though I did practice in Aperture quite a bit to minimize that. I made videos of the two tests, you can click here to see them:

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Feb232010

Aperture 3 vs. Lightroom Review

SUMMARY

I have used Lightroom for a few years since its first release.  I tried Aperture 1 and Aperture 2 and never found them compelling enough to switch from Lightroom.  Unless Lightroom 3 has video support (like Aperture 3) when it is released,  I  will be buying  a copy of Aperture 3.

 

My biggest headache before I used Lightroom  was getting through the editing process for weddings.   I was using Photo Mechanic for file management, Capture One for RAW processing,  and Photoshop to do any special effects or cleanup.  It would take me days to edit the 400 to 500 images from each wedding.  Lightroom cut that time in half.  The RAW processing wasn't as good as Capture One but the productivity gains far out weighed the image quality difference.  In my opinion, for smaller jobs where you have less than a couple dozen photos that you edit,  the editing workflow / products you use isn't going to make that much difference in your productivity. For bigger jobs, products like Lightroom can save your marriage.

The other headache that I have had was managing my photos and videos for my personal/home photography.  I see myself adding video to my professional work in the near future, so this fusion thing is important to me.  I tried IPhoto with IMovie but I found them kludgy and I just never liked how Apple would try to make the programs simple for the novice user and take away the ability to really manage your files (if you wanted to).   I also tried to use Lightroom and IMovie but that was not very elegant either. Aperture 3 allows me to manage my home photos and videos in the same program, store files where I want them, and produce great sideshows that integrate still photos, video, music, text and transitions in a very elegant manner.  

SO WHY DON'T I SWITCH MY PROFESSIONAL WORK TO APERTURE 3?

Click to read more ...

Monday
Feb152010

DVD Joe Buissink: A Workshop

If you haven't seen Joe's work or how he approaches weddings, this might be a good DVD to get. But if you know Joe and have his prior DVDs, this may not be worth the $100. I got it for $75 (with shipping) ... he was running a special. This video was filmed at a two day workshop he did in Canada. The DVD is broken down into 30 chapters/topics. You get a few minutes from each section of his two day workshop. The good news is that I wanted more ... the bad news is that I didn't get it. When the credits rolled at the end I was a bit shocked because I was sure more information was going to follow. The DVD lasted around an hour, he could have easily fillled up the DVD and given us two hours. Maybe he wants you to want more so you sign up for his two day workshop.

Click to read more ...

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